When Frederick Douglass was a young man, for instance, he
was owned by a “kind and tender-hearted woman” who taught
him to read. Before he fully understood the process,
however, she turned “evil,” but Douglass was undaunted.
Seeing that which was started as a means to a better future,
he used “various stratagems” and found unaware “poor white
children” who helped him fill in the blanks.
Books helped Ta-Nehisi Coates to learn who he was, while
Booker T. Washington saw a schoolroom as “paradise.” Zora
Neale Hurston once claimed that she was “supposed to write
about the Race Problem” – problem was, that wasn’t her
As one of the best students in his eighth grade class,
Malcolm X dreamed of being a lawyer until a teacher put him
down with words meant to “be realistic.” Instead, it lit a
fire in young X’s spirit and drove him to be successful.
Maya Angelou was prodded to read by a neighbor who gave
Angelou a voice. Toni Morrison looks at writing, in part, as
“…awe and reverence and mystery and magic.” Stokely
Carmichael was a bookworm (and was teased mercilessly for
it). Jamaica Kincaid bemoans the loss of a library in her
hometown (since reconstructed). As a girl, Terry McMillan
never even considered that black people could write books.
And, on the subject of diversity in children’s literature,
Walter Dean Myers says “In the middle of the night, I ask
myself if anyone really cares.”
By virtue of reading this far here, you know you’re a
reader. But what kind of meaning does the written word
hold? For the 27 African American writers included in
Black Ink, words are everything.
Beginning with slavery still fresh, and wrapping up with a
former president’s thoughts, Stephanie Stokes Oliver pulls
together African-American literary giants who seem to make
literacy something that should be in bold neon letters.
Indeed, the essays you’ll find in here will make bookworms
want to stand up and cheer. Reading is a superpower, in
Solomon Northup’s essay; and an old friend, with Roxane Gay.
Words feel playful, with Colson Whitehead; and like precious
gems with Maya Angelou.
This is one of those books that you can browse, flip
through, and consume at leisure, with essays of varied
lengths and interests. If you are a reader or a writer, or
both, Black Ink will be a delight.